A Photographer’s Guide to Acing Your Next Video Call
As more and more companies move to working remotely, virtual meetings are becoming a new norm. For many people - including myself - virtual meetings and the tools involved (Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangouts, etc.) are a breeze, but for others the transition can be Struggle City. It would take way too long to outline how to use each of these virtual meeting tools because they all work differently, but there are a few tips I can offer as universal advice for all of your upcoming video calls.
As a photographer, I’m constantly thinking about lighting, backdrops, framing, and angles. So it’s only natural that I’ve been applying those same lessons to my current situation. The care and effort you put into your typical in-person meetings should be applied to your virtual ones as well. Though many people are limited by space and furniture, trying to improve even one of the areas listed below could drastically improve your online meetings.
1. Clean it up!
Sometimes the simplest action can make the most difference. Wipe down your computer camera to make sure the camera is not smudged with dust or oily fingerprints. I take great care in cleaning my camera lenses before and after any photoshoot. The cameras on our phones and computers are also glass lenses that can collect grime that will distort your image. Take a dry tissue and spray the tiniest bit of glass cleaner on it for a crystal clear image.
While you’re in the cleaning mood, take a minute to declutter your surroundings - especially your background! I don’t think any of us anticipated inviting all of our coworkers and colleagues into our personal spaces at once, but virtual meetings give people an intimate look inside your home. How much dirty laundry is sitting on the counter behind you? Will your kids’ play area be in the frame? Aside from sharing personal items, movement in the back of your shot can distract others during the meeting. (Exception: we could all probably use a good puppy photobomb right about now!)
2. Follow the Rule of Thirds!
One of the first things I learned in my high school film photography class was the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds is basically an imaginary grid that you visualize over an image to balance the subject(s) aesthetically. Keeping your entire head and shoulders in the frame, at a reasonable distance, can make your video call feel more realistic.
The Rule of Thirds is used in all types of photography, but can be particularly important in portraits. Lets use Jim from The Office as an example: his eyes are near the top line, keeping the top of his head in the frame, while his shoulders sit at the bottom line. His eyes, mouth, and shoulders are the central points in the frame, allowing the viewers to make eye contact and read his facial language clearly. Shifting him to the right, to show the plant on the left, was an artistic choice. So if you have a ficus at home that you’d like to show off, now’s your chance!
3. Posture matters!
This one’s pretty straight forward: pretend you’re actually sitting at the conference table in your office. Are you slouched down with your chin on your chest? Are your feet propped up on the table, a pillow behind your head? Probably not. Don’t get me wrong - the minute that camera goes off, my legs are folded under me like a pretzel, but while on camera it’s important to remain professional.
One way to force yourself to sit up straight is to choose a chair/desk space over your couch or bed. Couches and beds are comfortable to sink into, but all those cushions slouch your back and shoulders. Plus, it’s pretty obvious on video when someone is in their bed, reclining on pillows. And I don’t know about you, but I feel a little strange about sharing my bed with my colleagues, even virtually.
Sitting too close to your laptop means you’re probably looking down at your screen. Aside from this being a naturally unflattering angle, it’s also a first class ticket to neck cramps. Sitting in a sturdy chair is more ergonomic and will relieve back pain over time. Want to take it step further? Stack some books on your desk or counter and create your own standing desk!
4. Can you hear me now?
Those of us sharing a small place with other remote workers, family members, or children are probably overly aware of sound quality in our meetings. Some noise will be inevitable, but finding a quiet area or corner for your virtual calls is the first step to eliminating background noise.
The second best step is muting yourself during the meeting when you’re not speaking or engaging. Sounds that don’t seem loud to you in the moment - coughing into your elbow, the click of your keyboard keys as you take notes, the ice shaking around in your Yeti filled with ice coffee, etc. - can be picked up by your computer’s speakers and amplified. Muting yourself can give you peace of mind and a little bit of privacy as you listen along.
Lastly, the virtual meeting tools being used right now, typically only project one voice at a time. If you’re coughing or “mmhmm-ing” along, your sounds can drown out the voice of whoever else is speaking. In an effort to keep the meeting as clear and efficient as possible, mute yourself until you’re ready to jump in.
And last but not least, the most important tip of all...
5. Face a window for natural, even lighting!
You wouldn’t sit in a dark conference room for a meeting with your boss, so don’t ignore lighting for your digital meetings either! Facial expressions and body language are just as important in a virtual meeting as they are in-person. Putting a little extra care into your lighting can improve conversations and eliminate confusion.
Facing direct sunlight or using a desk lamp too close to your face can blow out your skin tone and create glossy reflections, but facing a window, even across the room, can immensely improve your digital presence.
Though overexposing yourself on screen is important to avoid, so is underexposing. One mistake I’ve seen a lot lately, is sitting with your back to a window. Having windows at your back will create a deep contrast between your face and the overexposed background, leaving you with an extremely dark silhouette. Don’t be Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events! Computer cameras will auto balance the light in your house and may jump back and forth between the lightest and darkest parts of your image. Finding flat, even light will allow your computer camera visuals to remain consistent.
Artificial lighting isn’t bad, but ceiling lights directly over your head will leave shadows under your eyebrows, nose, and cheekbones. If you’re going for the spooky look, this is perfect - like the gang from Stranger Things getting ready to battle a monster - but perhaps not for your upcoming budget meeting. If your apartment or house is notoriously dark and you have to use artificial lighting, it’s best to avoid sitting directly under a bright light, but instead move back and face your body toward the light fixture.
Hopefully a few of these tips will be helpful for those of you working remotely for the next few weeks. Though working remotely can be difficult, we’re all in this together, learning as we go. If you have any additional tips to add, feel free to comment below to share with other readers!